Add these great tastes of fall to your to-do list
Autumn means cider in Massachusets, oysters in Rhode Island, and the best beer in the world (Vermont).
> For the hungry
SHELL GAME: IN RHODE ISLAND, THE SLURPING SEASON IS ON.
LOVE OYSTERS? Fall foliage may be spectacular in New England, but bivalve lovers know it as the season when oysters are at their firmest and tastiest due to cold waters returning after warm summer months. Aficionados, a.k.a. oyster geeks, can get their fill on the newly launched Rhode Island Oyster Trail. An online guide (rioystertrail.com) lists restaurants that offer locally farmed oysters year-round as well as local oyster farms, some of which offer tours and events. The trail includes 10 restaurants and oyster bars with featured local oysters. Located in Newport, Providence, South Kingstown, East Greenwich, and Narragansett, they range from elegant lounges with water views to casual pubs. At the Coast Guard House in Narragansett (401-789-0700, thecoastguardhouse.com), I always visit the raw bar station on the upstairs covered deck to watch my choices being shucked. Perched at the bar with a view of the beach, I enjoy oysters as fresh and salty as the breeze from Narragansett Bay. Want to learn the difference between Moonstones, Ninigrets, and Rome Points? Rhode Island’s new breed of aquaculturists combines love of farming with education, science, and an appreciation of local ecology, and these folks are happy to share their knowledge. Both Charlestown’s Walrus & Carpenter Oysters (walrusandcarpenteroysters.com) and South Kingstown’s Matunuck Oyster Farm (401-783-4202, rhodyoysters.com) offer seasonal tours of their oyster farms. Walrus & Carpenter tours include sparkling wine and a dozen shucked oysters per guest. Matunuck owner Perry Raso often helms the pontoon boat from the restaurant’s dock to where his bags of oysters rest in Potter Pond. — By Necee Regis
ON THE ROAD WITH SHERYL JULIAN . . .
> . . . In Middletown Springs, Vermont
In a beautiful area of southwest Vermont, popular for its breathtaking fall colors, sits Sissy’s Kitchen. Its owner, Sissy Hicks once ran the venerable Dorset Inn in Dorset, Vermont, for many years. When she sold it in 2008, she moved a few hayfields and dairy farms north to Middletown Springs and opened Sissy’s Kitchen, a retail outlet selling pickles and jams and other things she had put up. That morphed into a six-day-a-week takeout operation with a few seats on the front porch and more nestled in gardens out back. Now 65, Hicks has scaled down her hours to Thursday through Sunday and makes the most appealing food. Her Vermont ham and egg salad sandwich comes on a house-made roll, Waldorf chicken salad is crunchy with local apples, deviled eggs have just the right heat, and individual spinach quiches have creamy centers and beautifully flaky dough. Cookie jars are filled with chocolate crinkles, gingersnaps, oatmeal raisin rounds, and more. Many customers go right to the kitchen to say hello, and the shy cook, who is happy to see them, keeps cooking while she talks, slicing the turkey breast she pulled from the oven and fresh tuna for salade Nicoise. “This is my retirement,” says Hicks, grinning.
DETAILS: Sissy’s Kitchen 10 West Street, Middletown Springs, Vermont, 802-235-2000, sissyskitchen.com
> . . . In Tiverton, Rhode Island
Standing in his Tiverton, Rhode Island, restaurant, The Red Dory, former Cambridge chef Steve Johnson looks like a man who fell into a pot of honey. This location really suits him. It’s been a couple of years since he sold his popular restaurant, Rendezvous in Central Square, and headed to his cottage in southeastern Massachusetts for a reset. He had an eye on a spot in Tiverton along the Sakonnet River and jumped when it became available in 2014. The Red Dory (1848 Main Road, Tiverton, 401-816-5001, reddoryrestaurant.com) is big, airy, sleek, and light, and you can see the water from practically every seat in the house. Most days, Johnson stops at a farm and a fishmonger to pick up provisions, so your dinner might have been caught yesterday. He’s always delighted to see old Rendezvous customers who make the 75-minute journey for Sunday lunch. Spicy bluefish cakes, shellfish salad, and haddock with littlenecks and escarole are just a few of the menu items worth the drive.
DETAILS: The Red Dory 1848 Main Road, Tiverton, Rhode Island, 401-816-5001, reddoryrestaurant.com
> . . . In North Adams, Massachusetts
The red-brick 19th-century former mill that houses Mass MoCA, among others, has a new tenant: Bright Ideas Brewing, which opened last spring. With its expansive windows and comfortable, long bar, it’s the ideal place to regroup after a day of checking out museum exhibits. Cofounders Orion Howard and Eric Kerns join British brewer Chris Post — founder of Wandering Star Craft Brewery in Pittsfield — in this craft brewery and cafe. Bon Tricycle of Williamstown provides snacks like grilled cheese, jerk sandwiches, Cubanos, and pork rillettes. Just right with a pint of ale.
DETAILS: Bright Ideas Brewing 111 Mass MoCA Way, North Adams, 413-346-4460, brightideasbrewing.com
> For the parched
AN APPLE BY ANY OTHER NAME . . .
The fruits of fall have been fermented for centuries in the hills of Western Massachusetts — but lately, a new generation of cider makers is setting up shop, tapping into the same craft sensibility that’s driving the boom in small breweries. Whether you take yours sweet or hard, you’ll find your pleasure during the annual Franklin County Cider Days. “Pommeliers” eagerly pour samples and teach newcomers how to distinguish between a phenolic aroma and an astringent mouth feel. The big draw is the Cider Salon, with tastings of some 90 brands of hard cider from around the world, held in the lodge at the Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont. It’s not just about sipping cider: The weekend is filled with apple-themed lectures and workshops. Learn to prune bearing trees at New Salem Preserves and Orchard or take in a cooking demo at Deerfield’s picture-perfect Clarkdale Fruit Farms (and pick up a peck of pie fillers for Thanksgiving while you’re at it).
DETAILS: Franklin County Cider Days November 4 to 6 (tickets required for some events), 413-773-5463, ciderdays.org
— Debra Jo Immergut
THE RETURN OF THE KING
Back in the dark days before great craft beer flowed so freely in New England that it threatened to erupt from the fountains at the Christian Science Plaza, there was Heady Topper. The signature beer of Vermont brewery The Alchemist, the double IPA was essentially perfect: powerfully hoppy but beautifully balanced. For a good long while, it was widely considered The Best Beer in the World.
The problem was that acquiring a few cans took more effort than all but the most devoted beer geeks could muster: Alchemist’s attempt at selling beer straight from its Waterbury brewery had ended in a cloud of neighbor complaints. Hunting elsewhere, you could race into every gas station and convenience store from Barre to Burlington just seconds too late to snag the last four cans. So when co-owners John and Jen Kimmich announced they were planning to open a second Alchemist brewery, in Stowe, this summer — one where customers could once again stroll in and buy beer five days a week — well, it was time to break out the bubbly.
But five years since the first Alchemist brewery opened, has the craft beer scene passed The Alchemist by? After all, the best beer should be one that some guy you’re talking to at a backyard barbecue has heard of but has never been able to find . . . right? Mercifully not. Since the opening of the new brewery near Stowe’s main drag, long lines form each morning outside the elegant building. Heady Topper is as delicious as ever, and other Alchemist beers are regularly available: the bright, slightly lighter IPA Focal Banger and the even more deliciously dank, hopped-up Crusher, another double IPA. More will follow, making Stowe — already a fun destination when the leaves and then the snow start to fall — even more of a year-round attraction.
DETAILS: The Alchemist 100 Cottage Club Road, Stowe, Vermont, 802-882-8165, alchemistbeer.com
— Nestor Ramos